In a statement disseminated by a Pakistani TV channel on May 31,2008, Pakistan's Minister for Ports and Shipping, Mr. Qamar Zaman Kaira, has been quoted as saying that he had serious reservations over the operational contract of the Gwadar Port, which was awarded to a Singapore company by the Government of Mr.Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister, under President Pervez Musharraf. He added that he would try to conduct an indepth study in this regard.
2. The TV channel further quoted him as saying that the operational contract of the port was very surprising as the Government would get only nine per cent of the gross revenue under it.In return, he said, the Government would provide the entire linkage infrastructure and would also pay the price of land for the free-processing industrial zone. At present, there is no road- or railway-linkage infrastructure to connect the port with other parts of the country, he said, and added that the port could not operate in the air.
3. According to him, since the completion of the construction work by the Chinese, only one ship carrying wheat has so far used the port.Some portion of the wheat was unloaded at Gwadar while the rest of the stock was unloaded at Port Qasim.He said that the wheat unloaded at Gwadar had to be shifted to Karachi for onward distribution in the country. The Minister said that while the Chinese had invested above $250 million in the project and completed it efficiently,, the port could not operate in the absence of the linkage and operational facilities.
4.After a Cabinet meeting on June 3,2008, chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr.Yousaf Raza Gillani, the Federal Minister for Information, Ms.Sherry Rehman, told the media that the Cabinet referred the Gwader Port Authority Bill without approving to a special committee for review. According to her, the Cabinet was informed of the decision of the deposed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhury, through which he had cancelled several allotments of land in the port city of Gwadar. The Cabinet also referred all allotments of land and, sale and purchase decisions made by the Gwadar Port Authority for review by the same special committee.
5. It may be recalled that the original decision of Musharraf to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhury in March,2007, was caused by his unhappiness over the following three actions of the Chief Justice:
His holding the procedure followed by the Shaukat Aziz Government for privatising the State-owned Pakistan Steel Mills as mala fide.
His admitting for enquiry a number of public interest petitions from the relatives of a large number of Pakistanis, who alleged that their relatives, who were suspected by the US intelligence agencies of being supporters of Al Qaeda, had been informally picked up by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and handed over to the FBI without following the due process of law for being taken out of the country to places such as Afghanistan, the US naval base at Diego Garcia, Morocco and the Guantanamo Bay detention centre for interrogation.
His admitting for enquiry petitions relating to the award of plots of land to various persons by the Gwadar port authorities and a contract to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) for running the port. The petitioners alleged that undue favours had been shown to the PSA.
6.A petition against the award of the Gwadar lease to the PSA was filed by the Watan Party (Party of the Nation) through lawyer Zafarullah Khan. It was the same party, which had filed a petition in 2006 against the manner in which Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz had privatised the Pakistan Steel Mills. After holding an enquiry into that petition, the suspended Chief Justice had passed severe strictures against the Musharraf regime.
7. The petition against the award of the Gwadar lease to the PSA made the following allegations:
The lease was awarded to the PSA without examining the national security implications of awarding the lease to a company of a country, which had close relations with the US. It drew attention to the debate in the US Congress in 2006 on the national security implications of awarding a contract to a Dubai-controlled company for the management of certain ports in the US.
Senior officials, who expressed their reservations over the award of the lease to the PSA, were removed from their posts by Musharraf. The former Director-General of Port and Shipping was transferred out of his post by Musharraf because he opposed the award of the lease to the PSA.
The lease was awarded to the PSA under pressure from some Chinese banks, which had lent money to the Government of Pakistan for the construction of the commercial port.
The PSA was exempted from the payment of all taxes for 20 years. This was an extraordinary exemption, the like of which had never been given to any other company----Pakistani or foreign.
The whole bidding was carried out secretly with no transparency.
8.The petition appealed to the court to order the Government to make public all documents relating to the lease and to stay the operationalisation of this lease till the court completed its enquiries. Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz asked the suspended Chief Justice not to admit this petition. He rejected their request and called for relevant documents from the Government and the Gwadar port authorities to enable him to look into the allegations. This was one of the factors, which led to his suspension by Musharraf.In this connection, attention is invited to my article of March 11,2007, at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers22/paper2165.html
9. The Chief Justice was subsequently reinstated following a public agitation led by the lawyers, but dismissed along with many other judges when Musharraf imposed a State of Emergency in November,2007. The Chief Justice and other judges had refused to take a new oath of office as prescribed by Musharraf. It was widely believed in Pakistan that Musharraf imposed the emergency and sacked the Chief Justice because he apprehended that the Chief Justice was about to deliver a judgement declaring Musharraf's re-election as the President as null and void.
10.Mr.Asif Zardari, the co-chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has been under considerable pressure to have the Chief Justice and other sacked judges reinstated through a resolution of the Parliament. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif and the lawyers' community have made this a prestige issue and are threatening to re-launch the public agitation if this is not done by the Government.
11. Mr.Zardari finds himself in a difficult situation. Neither he nor his wife the late Benazir Bhutto liked the dismissed Chief Justice because he (the sacked Chief Justice) reportedly wanted the trial of the accused in the case relating to the murder of Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir, at Karachi in September,1996, to be expedited. Mr.Zardari was one of the accused in the case, but the new Government of Mr.Gilani has withdrawn the charges against him.
12. Moreover, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhury had also wanted to enquire into the legality of the reconciliation ordinance issued by Musharraf under which all the corruption charges against Benazir and Mr.Zardari were withdrawn. Mr.Zardari is, therefore, disinclined to have him reinstated. Musharraf too is strongly opposed to his reinstatement, but he is reportedly willing to have the other sacked judges reinstated. Well-informed sources in Pakistan say that the US too does not want him to be reinstated because of his enquiries into the missing persons cases.
13.At the same time, the question of the reinstatement of the sacked Chief Justice is a very popular issue in Pakistan and Mr.Zardari might damage himself politically if he does not do it. He has been trying to buy time by saying that the reinstatement can be brought about only by amending the Constitution and not by a simple resolution of the Parliament. The present Government does not have the required two-thirds majority to have the Constitution amended. It remains to be seen whether Mr.Zardari's evasive stand on the issue drives the PML (N) into the streets and into the ranks of the opposition in the Parliament.
14.Mr.Zardari is anxious to remove any impression that he has been colluding with Musharraf in hushing up any enquiry into the allegations relating to Gwadar and with Musharraf and the US to prevent any enquiry into the fate of the missing persons, who were allegedly taken out of Pakistan by the US intelligence agencies.
15. It is for this purpose that the Government has asked a parliamentary committee to look into allegations relating to Gwadar. It remains to be seen whether the enquiry would be thorough-going or a mere eyewash. (5-6-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:email@example.com)